Thursday, June 11, 2009

membership: arcane ritual?

I sat with a group of people new to Opawa last night, talking about membership. For me, part of a commitment to being a welcoming and hospitable place is taking time is explaining things – from as simple as introducing myself when I welcome people to worship, through to the ins and outs of membership or baptism or growing in discipleship or how to read the Bible.

As a (baptist) church we have concept called membership. I like membership for a number of reasons.

First, one of my mentors had a saying: “loose at the edges, committed at the core.” Membership is one way of offering a committed core. It is humbling and exciting to read a members pledge and realise I’m part of a group of people who’ve said yes to mission, growth, prayer, Kingdom commitment. There’s a strength and cohesion to who we are, and a promise of what we can be.

Second, it provides a language by which community can grow together. When a member acts badly, we can point to the pledge and talk about the action in light of the pledge and an already shared understanding of behaviour.

Thirdly, at times, church decisions involve important and significant decisions (including employment and buildings). Membership provides a clear mechanism for saying who can, and can’t make those decisions.

Fourthly, gathering members for a well-run meeting is an excellent way of creating processes, building vision and cohesiveness.

What I don’t like about membership is that it is so often framed as only two options: in or out. So to use the notion of “loose at the edges, committed at the core,” I’d like to find language or metaphors by which people could place themselves on a continuum rather than in or out. I’ve yet to find that, but if anyone’s done any thinking or experimenting in this area, I’d love to hear.

I’ve thought about the concept of “stakeholders”, which is a much better name, but again, I have struggled to see how stakeholders can be on a continuum from loose to committed.

In the meantime, it was great way to spend an evening, sitting with people willing to even think about a countercultural way of being; in mission and growth and community and resource sharing.

Posted by steve at 10:18 PM


  1. aye up steve – is this any use?

    Comment by si — June 11, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

  2. The Anglican church in Wgtn has struggled with this one too. In the end there were two lists – not quite a continium – but at least there were three position. An electoral roll – which meant that you were a member of a local church; had buy-in to what the church believes; had voting rights at meetings etc; a pastoral roll – which meant that you had an associatiation with a local church but not the responsiblities or priviledges (is it a priviledge to vote at a meeting???) of the previous option; and the third option was to do nothing.

    Comment by KSW — June 12, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

  3. Wouldn’t the question be: What does the Bible have to say on the subject?

    Comment by Ingrid — June 14, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

  4. that might depend on whether a person believed that the Bible was the ONLY necessary tool.

    Others might consider that our faith as practised is a conversation between Bible, God’s revelation, wisdom of others down through history who’ve loved God, culture,

    there are lots of things Christians do today that aren’t in the Bible – like sing choruses or use data projectors or …


    Comment by steve — June 14, 2009 @ 10:16 pm

  5. Is it being contentious if I say that they did sing songs and a data projector is nothing else, but using writing and images, except with some electricity behind it?

    Comment by Ingrid — June 14, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

  6. Regarding the person with the baby that felt glared at, if that is the one who stood behind me last Sunday, I actually was smiling at her several times, but noticed at some stage, that she took it the wrong way. Am very sorry. Guess I’ll have to work on my smile. I know I’m in the wrong section for this comment, but I can’t find any more, where you talked about it.

    Comment by Ingrid — June 14, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

  7. Hi Ingrid,

    Appreciate you dropping onto my blog.

    the person feeling glared at was from a conversation quite some weeks ago, and not last Sunday. So I don’t think there’s a need for you to apologise. Opawa does have lots of babies at moment, and that means new parents who feel pretty self-consious. So thanks for smiling,

    Be glad to catchup with you sometime, if you’ve got time. Feel free to email me steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz


    Comment by steve — June 14, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  8. Thank you!

    Comment by Ingrid — June 15, 2009 @ 12:00 am

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